How to Protect Yourself And Your Property: What to Look For When You’re Screening a New Tenant

Red Flags To Watch Out For During the Tenant Screening Process

Prior convictions. This includes any disturbances, DUIs, driving without a license or insurance, or worse. Count all cases, including any that are “dismissed with conditions,” expunged, or similar. You do not want a tenant who has a history of not paying taxes, three DUIs, or unpaid child support. One or two convictions may be okay, depending on the circumstances. But more than two, and you’ve dabbled into the deal breaker zone. Read: Ten Landlord Legal Mistakes to Avoid.

Bad references from previous landlord. If you get a bad reference from a landlord, run. Even the most fed up landlords that had problems with the tenant is usually nice enough to still give a good reference (mostly to be able to get them out of their property). So when a previous landlord gives a bad reference run, don’t walk.

Looking to move suspiciously fast. If your tenant applicant needs a place right away, it could be a bad sign. There are always legitimate reasons for needing to move in a rush, but be sure to ask for an explanation—in person, if you can. When you ask questions like this in person, you can get a good indication whether or not the individual is being genuine or not.

Poor credit. A bad credit score is a deal breaker in itself alone. There are times where a lower score than desired can be explained. Perhaps there was time a few years ago where the prospective tenant was laid off, and he missed a payment or two. Use your best judgment to determine whether or not a few missed payments, or black mark, were justifiable. See: Five Biggest Red Flags in Rental Applications.

Prior eviction. Even if they were evicted unjustly, it is still likely not to take the risk. You may have to wait a little longer to find a tenant, but you’ll sleep better at night.

Low income. You should look for a minimum income of at least 2.5 to 3 times the monthly rent. If your tenant makes $4,000 a month and your rent is $3,400 this is probably not the right tenant for you. Read: 11 Mistakes Inexperienced Landlords Make.

Criminal history. This is self-explanatory. Do not rent to someone with a criminal history background.

Inability to complete rental application. This can be a red flag, depending on which areas they leave blank. For example, if they “forgot” their social security number, or “can’t remember” the name of their last employer.

The applicant is needy, and/or demanding. If your very first interactions with this tenant leave you drained, consider what they will be like when they move in. You don’t want a controlling tenant.

Defiancy. If you smell cigarette smoke on a prospective tenant who is moving into a non-smoking unit, think twice. They may sincerely not smoke in your unit; however, a cigarette doesn’t need to be lit inside of the house for the house to smell of smoke. Decide which personal habits in a tenant you can tolerate, and which ones you won’t.

Gypsy. If they change jobs too often, they are a risk. Ask for their previous landlords, to see how long they’ve lived at one property, too. You want to find a reliable, stable tenant. Try to find a stable tenant that has had the same job for at least a year.

How to screen tenants to make sure you find the perfect candidate for your property:

2 thoughts on “How to Protect Yourself And Your Property: What to Look For When You’re Screening a New Tenant”

  1. my rental property has been vacant all summer…i live by a university and school is about to start up. I’ve gotten a lot of inquiries but they have mostly been by undergrads. I’m really not sure if i should rent it to a student or not but i’m it a bad idea?

  2. It can feel very risky to hand the keys over to college students. However, there are many benefits. There are always risks no matter what the age of the renter. Here are some pros and cons:

    1. Many young people can’t find jobs and so are returning to school. This is creating a greater need for college housing, both on and off campus.
    2. Rents in a university town tend to be higher since they can be pegged to room and board fees at the college.
    3. Since parents normally cover rent payments, it’s usually safe to rent to college students.
    4. Student renters are less fussy. Their expectations are not as high as non-student tenants, so they may accept not having the most modern appliances or fancy décor.
    5. They may pay in advance. It’s sometimes easier for a parent to just pay you for a semester upfront than deal with funneling money to a student monthly in the hope they forward it to you.
    6. You may be able to advertise on the university site. That’s where students looking for apartments go first when they need off-campus housing.

    1. Many students are on their own for the first time. Lack of control and immaturity can be a bad combination.
    2. Students have little to no experience living away from mom and dad’s nest where everything was taken care of for them.
    3. Students are tougher on apartments than normal tenants due to the short-term nature of their stay.
    Certain institutions are known as party schools, increasing the risk that some students may do damage to their apartments.


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